How to Identify Thermal & Radiation Hazards

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

This lesson is going to cover the identification of thermal and radiation hazards that may appear in the healthcare environment. We will look at examples of each category of hazard as well.

Environmental Hazards

As you are driving on a long road, you notice a yellow sign telling you to slow down because there are curves ahead. You reduce your speed and it doesn't take you long to be relieved that the sign was there. You surely would've driven off the road and into a ditch if the sign hadn't alerted you to the curves.

Road hazard sign

Now the curves in and of themselves were not harmful, but they represented a hazard or potential danger to persons and/or personal property if not approached in the proper manner. It is great when we have signs or other alerts to let us know when hazards exist.

What if you were the person responsible for finding hazards in order to alert others to danger? What if this was one of your responsibilities as a nurse in the hospital where you work? Let's follow Jackson, a nurse as well as an OSHA officer, as he goes through identifying the hazards at the hospital where he recently started working.

Thermal Hazards

Jackson has entered a hallway that leads to the area where the autoclaves and other sterilization equipment is located. He recognizes that the sterilization room poses potential thermal hazards. Thermal hazards are hazards that can alter your body temperature in a harmful way. The hazard here is that temperatures rise during sterilization; the room gets hot. Staying in this room for extended periods of time could lead to hyperthermia which is an elevated body temperature.

The sterilization room poses a thermal hazard
Picture of a sterilization room

The sterilization room is located on the same hallway as some of the storage areas for the labs. Some supplies and materials for the labs have to be stored at very low temperatures such as -20 degrees and -80 degrees Celsius. Jackson realizes that these freezers represent a thermal hazard as well.

I bet you are trying to figure out how something cold could be a thermal hazard? Well, thermal does refer to heat, but in this case it refers to your body heat. Anything that could cause harmful alterations in your body heat is considered a thermal hazard. So exposure to the extremely cold temperatures in the freezers may cause a drastic decrease in body heat resulting in hypothermia (notice the difference between 'hyperthermia' (too hot) and 'hypothermia' (too cold).

Radiation Hazards

Jackson has now made his way to the next level of the hospital where many of the cancer treatments take place. Cancers are frequently treated using radioactive materials. Because radiation is difficult to contain in one spot, it gets into the surrounding areas. Anything that could expose a person to radiation at levels high enough or long enough to cause harm to the body is a radiation hazard.

Radiation hazards should have the radiation symbol
Picture of the radiation warning symbol

Nurses, radiation therapists, physicians, and patient transport personnel may be exposed to this particular radiation hazard during the process of treating and taking care of patients. Jackson is aware that radiation in small amounts is not very harmful, but in larger amounts it can lead to DNA damage, burns, cancer development, and death. The amount of radiation that the healthcare workers will be exposed to has the potential to be higher than that of patients due to repeated exposure throughout the day on multiple days of the week.

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